Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s Deadboy's "Cash Antics Vol. 1" 12-inch with a bonus Cassie "Me & U" 12-inch. Listen to Deadboy's Cassie reworks, "Unofficial Girl," "Long Way to Go" and Schnipper’s thoughts after the jump.
This summer, at a party, I was kind of bummed. Shit had been kind of gnarly with my girl and she was there but we were in different parts of the party. I was drinking a beer and someone was playing R&B songs from their iPod and Cassie came on. I looked at some girl, like way younger than me, probably in a floral skirt and combat boots, the kind of total hipster cliché thing that occasionally just seems like 1000% perfect actually, and she was singing along to every single word. I died, Rachel Zoe style. And then I looked over at my girl and she was singing along to every single word, too, and again, I died, but this time in a very different style.
Anyway, things did not work out. I certainly don’t blame tinny R&B, but man that’s got to be the soundtrack. For one evening, it was Bon Iver and as pure as that should seem, visions of sad flannel and caffeine-free tea, nothing simultaneously describes, breaks and heals a broken heart like a pale voiced woman sing-talking to you. The woozy ways of Cassie as a deflated vamp have been documented and salivated over by plenty of critics bemoaning her general overlooking in the popular music spectrum. Her prowess is the opposite of the power focus of most of her peer singers, slinky wind to their big tornadoes. “Me & U,” her first single, remains her greatest triumph. Produced by her huckster, perpetually not cool enough dude Ryan Leslie, it’s a pretty majestic song, fairly barren, Leslie’s beat consisting mostly of his tooling around on a keyboard like he only has two fingers, doot-doot-doot, doo-doo-doo-doot. For her part, Cassie keeps her trills to a minimum, and when she does extend or double her voice, it’s honestly not particularly wild, though I don’t know if that’s by design or by (lack of) skill. Either way, it’s a lot more effecting than the big belting of much modern R&B, large for the sake of large, a big buoyancy in place of real substance. Or maybe that’s not fair. Ability is ability is ability, and pipes, on a sheer Olympic wow factor will always impress. But they won’t forward anything. Fireworks are always impressive for ten minutes, then you forget about them until next July 4th.
Or, I don’t know, maybe a lot of people get over shit with the pained song of Angie Stone by their side, Anthony Hamilton hurting in their ear. Sounds overwrought to me. But I like things simple. As, it seems, does Deadboy, who's found his muse in Cassie's seeming lack of spirit. In his own songs, he’s made mincemeat of R&B vocals, repurposing middle of the road, if not occasionally pretty great, songs from Ashanti and Lumidee, singers without too much of their own salable spunk, but who achieved a decent amount of success. Or in the case of Ashanti, a lot of success, though little acclaim. Lumidee had one great song, but the rest were so bad, it seems to have been an unfortunate fluke. For his “If U Want Me” (and it’s always “U” and never “you”), Deadboy steals half of Lumidee’s chorus line If you want me to stay/ I’ll never leave and puts it on diva house repeat. He’s got a tambourine, chalky snare and haunted house keys. It’s a simple song, brutally effective. You never get an answer of what to do if you want her, the first half of that unfinished clause so tough a tease. For “U Cheated,” he takes (I think) from Ashanti’s “Leaving,” pitches it down to ghost town levels of spooky sad, some depressing mumbo jumbo about who cheated (U did). It might have the word “hurt” in there. Even if it doesn’t, well, same thing.
But Cassie, she's’s been the motherlode. Seemingly too precious to dismember, Deadboy rejiggered two of her songs from scratch for his "Cash Antics" 12-inch single. Neither one of them is “Me and U.” I’m willing to be he found that too sacred. Or at least too old. Not that “Official Girl” is a particularly pertinent song on 2010. Too bad—maybe Deadboy can fix that. “Unofficial Girl,” his version, quickens it Cassie’s acapella to not quite Chipmunk levels, but definitely bordering on sucked in a balloon. In the original, produced by Timbaland’s right hand Danja, Cassie’s I’m tired I’m tired I’m tired is such a lament. To Deadboy, though, he’s reassigned the upper hand to Cassie, an ultimatum song, not a dear diary rant about side chick status. That repowering is Deadboy’s MO, a partnership between sadness and triumph. “Me and U,” had it already, Cassie on top, I’ve been so busy/ But I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with you. Cassie’s no good as a damsel, she’s too flippant. Bolster her voice with some synthesizer incantation; give her some hair-flip lack of interest and pep, and voila, you’ve got a vixen.
“Long Way to Go” was supposed to that by design. The original is a Ryan Leslie special, uber-simple keyboard sounding like a melody Tom Hanks could have played on the Big piano if it was more bloopy. You say that you’re so hot and you got skills in the bedroom/ You try to flirt when you’re so not/ Had a chance, you still never come through. Snaps! But maybe she's not so good cocky, oversells it, so Deadboy slows it down and thins it out, bums it out. The percussion sounds like a door knock, the bass non-existent most of the song, just someone scratching a warped record, until the keys come in, and its all Star Wars. And lazing above all, syrupy Cassie nonplussed forever.
Could these songs exist from scratch? Could Deadboy invent an off white canvas for Cassie to fill out? Would Cassie care? Does she think she’s a top tier diva? After enough lightness, you hope it’s purposeful, if not particularly piercing to the mainstream. But given the airplay, the push would these refixes make a dent? No, probably not. Really, though, it’s all about if girls would sing along and dance to them at a party. Yeah, I think that could happen. But they'd probably be sad girls.